Man vs. Nature

This course will largely focus on the American Transcendental Movement of the mid-late 19th century. The major writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Frederick Douglass have offered Americans the opportunity to re-evaluate, examine, and shape their own concepts of “American” identity, their relationship with nature, and the human condition. Their works, while over 150 years old, are still very relevant and influence each new generation's ideas of personal identity and American traditions, as well as the evolution of popular culture.

The Transcendental Movement has sparked much dialogue and debate regarding how and why we live in the way that we do, the value of personal relationships, the division of classes and the emphasis on materialism and socioeconomic status, and the notion of community and communal living. As in the past, people still believe there is a need to truly re-evaluate the purpose of life, and to re-examine their relationship with nature, with the government, and with the people around them.

In this course, participants will explore the following questions:
• How do we identify ourselves; how do we identify ourselves in relation to others' perceptions of us?
• Why do we concern ourselves with concepts of money, class, race, freedom, and community?
• In what ways can we, as members of contemporary society, relate to ideas and concepts presented during the late 19th century?
• How can literature and writing change the way in which we perceive ourselves and others?
• What is our relationship with nature? How has it changed in the course of our own lifetime?
• How do we want our future to look and what is informing our opinion on this topic?

Target Population:
This course is perfect for high school students who have an interest in studying sociology, government, economics, philosophy, or English in their collegiate career. It is also well suited for students who have an interest in reflective writing and students who are interested in how we as human beings perceive ourselves and the different relationships that we have with others.

Goals and Objectives: Students will be able to:
1. Examine the role that literature plays in our lives.
2. Analyze the various relationships and roles that we play in our daily lives.
3. Identify, compare and contrast the themes, points-of-view, and other literary elements and devices (irony, simile, metaphor, imagery, tone, foreshadowing, flashback, etc.) found in political writings and narrative pieces.
4. Examine the role that our relationships with nature and others play in our general understandings of social class and race.
5. Use a literary essay format to analyze, process, and apply various texts to support a thesis.

Choice of Major Topics and Themes:
Friendship, family, self-reflection, acquaintances, relationships with strangers, social class, race and ethnicity, government, politics, morality, multiple perspectives, paradigm shifts, isolation, and social norms.

"Nature" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Civil Disobedience" by Henry David Thoreau
"Leaves of Grass" (Excerpts) by Walt Whitman
"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave"- by Frederick Douglass

Students will research various forms of literary criticism in order to support and inform their thesis/project focus.

Interim Assessments: 

Shorter writing assignments where students will be asked to produce substantial analytic responses to a daily quotation or thought-provoking question related to the texts and content of the course.

Students create/host a structured debate/discussion based on their written assignment.

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Student may produce a short film, a fictional piece, or a piece of art that responds to a particular question/quotation posed in one or more of the texts read for the class. This "creative option" must be accompanied by a 3-page explanation paper that details the rationale and the historical/textual context for the work.

Sample PBATs: 
Students will be asked to produce a 5-7 page literary essay in which they compare/contrast the social, political, or philosophical ideas as they are expressed in a minimum of two of the texts we have read in class. Students are expected to include historical/political contexts for their arguments.